Published: 29th April 2019
Why TISS students are pushing their college to NOT give academic awards at their convocation
The students have written to the administration expressing concern over the award which they believe are against the ideals of justice and equality that they have learnt in the institution
Probably for the first time ever in India, a student body is campaigning for the abolition of the medal/award system on campus. The students of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad have written to the administration asking them to reconsider the practice of giving away awards at their convocation, scheduled for April 30 this year. The students have expressed their disagreement with four of the awards that the institute bestows on its students — because they feel that it is unequal an unjust to students from underprivileged backgrounds.
TISS awards the following — Gold Medal, Silver Medal, Best Student, Best Dissertation Award. Since all the four awards are based on academic performance, the Student Action Committee on campus believes that it is an unfair criteria. Since TISS houses students from various social and economic backgrounds and many students might not be able to get the same sort of marks as their privileged counterparts. Students feel that the ones who get the awards are usually the privileged ones, who enjoy social capital and are financially well-off. "Going by the people who were given the award in the last few years, it shows that they were all from a particular caste and class. So it is unfair to students who don't have the same privileges of caste and class," Shivani*, a first-year student said.
In the letter, the SAC writes, "The classroom teachings, experiential learning through fieldwork, projects etc have ignited a sense of responsibility towards the society in the students. By implementing proper affirmative actions, financial aids and other efforts, TISS has tried to fill the existing gap in society regarding educational access. The students have also tried in their capacities to not let the campus submit to unequal traditions." Which is why they say that the award system is against the ideals of the institution.
"The idea of 'merit' that forms the basis of these awards is the very idea that we attack in our classes and academic dialogues. It reduces the worth of a student to their academic performance. The way this 'merit' has been constructed also gets completely ignored in this process and it is mostly students from particular class and caste backgrounds that are able to achieve these awards," the SAC explained.
Shivani says that the parameters for choosing a student for an award are not specified but taking into account the students who have won previously, they can see that they are academic parameters. She said this means that the administration is limiting a student's performance to their marks. "Every person's social reality is different. For example, having good mastery over English becomes a determinant of a good or bad performance which is unfair because not everybody has access to good English education." Giving us an example, Shivani said, "There was a student from a tribal background, whose grasp of English wasn't very good so she wrote her entire thesis in her native language and then with a friend's help translated the whole thing. How can you compare her to say, someone like me? Someone who was brought up with a convent education in Delhi and has good command over English?"
For an institute that provides scholarships and aid to underprivileged students, TISS should "stop glorifying one's position in the face of unequal opportunities; socio-economic, educational and geographical backgrounds; and different experiences, creates division and hierarchy," the students write.
The SAC is running a signature campaign and so far, 300 out of their 500 students have signed including 15 faculty members. "The faculty want to hold a meeting on their own before they issue a statement but right now 15 faculty members have extended their support in their individual capacity," she said. However, the administration has still not responded to their letter, "They have not shown any concern for our letter but we are hoping to approach them in some other way," the SAC member said. The convocation is scheduled for the April 30 and the students are unsure if they will hear from the administration before that. "Most of us have signed and support the campaign, so I don't see why the administration is not agreeing to consider this proposal," she said.
While this campaign is currently running only in TISS, Hyderabad, the SAC is speaking to their counterparts on Mumbai and Guwahati too. They could soon start the campaign on their campus too.
*name changed to protect identity